Local activists seeking an end to job discrimination against LGBT people protested last week outside the U.S. Capitol, urging Congress to take action on the issue.
Holding signs reading, “I can still be fired for being me” and “1 in 7 LGBTQ face job discrimination,” about one dozen protesters marched along Independence Avenue on May 20 to demand passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The bill, pending in committee in both chambers of Congress, would bar job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most private and public workforce settings.
Supporters have said for months they’re expecting imminent action on the bill, but it has yet to move out of committee in either the House or Senate.
Jay Carmona, a D.C. lesbian, led much of the protest by shouting chants into a bullhorn. She said the protest was held because lawmakers made several promises on ENDA and now Democrats are “silent” on those promises.
“This is something that is really, really important, especially in these tough economic times,” Carmona said. “We can’t afford longer unemployment lines because people are being fired just because of their gender expression or their sexuality.”
Brad Catoe, a gay D.C. resident, said he wants to see ENDA pass because it’s “important for everybody to be treated equally under the law.”
Catoe, whose partner, Brian Fricke, is a gay former Marine and board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said passage of ENDA and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are particularly important issues for him.
“Obviously, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is important to me firstly because my partner was in the Marines, but I think that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is also very important to our entire community,” Catoe said. “They’re sort of connected in a lot of ways.”
Last week’s protest got the attention of some people working on Capitol Hill. A Democratic aide told the Blade the action alerted several officials in the Cannon House Building, including Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.).
Still, it was unclear when the House might take action. Federal lawmakers are taking a week off following the Memorial Day holiday.
Organizing the event was GetEqual, the group responsible for several recent protests and rallies in D.C. and elsewhere that have drawn attention to LGBT issues. Although previous GetEqual events have included arrests, nobody was detained during the May 20 protest.
Heather Cronk, managing director for GetEqual, said last week’s protest was intended to “give visibility” to LGBT people and their need for workplace protections.
“While other groups are lobbying and doing phone calls and doing e-mails, we also make sure that we’re feeling visible in that process,” she said.
Cronk, a lesbian who lives in Riverdale, Md., said passing ENDA is important because LGBT people “are one of the few groups left that are not protected by federal law.”
“We can continue working on a local and a statewide level, but folks in middle states who can be fired for who they are need protection at the federal level, so we’re standing up for those folks today,” Cronk said.
Much of the protest was directed at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). At one point, protesters gathered just outside Pelosi’s office in the Cannon House Office Building and shouted, “Nancy Pelosi! We want ENDA!”
In an interview with The Hill newspaper last week, Pelosi said she’s supported passage of ENDA for decades and feels the pending bill is strongly positioned, but expressed some uncertainty about moving forward.
“When the opportunity is there, we want to bring that up, and I hope that will be soon,” she said. “We’ll see what people want to do. It’s not my own personal decision. We’ll just see where we go from here.”
Supporters of ENDA have expressed concern that opponents could use a legislative maneuver known as the motion to recommit to scuttle the bill when it comes to the floor. The maneuver could force a vote on stripping the gender identity provisions from the legislation.